The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies to approve or reject natural gas pipelines within a strict time limit or see the project automatically approved, over the threat of a presidential veto.
H.R. 161, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, passed in a 253-169 vote, attracting little Democratic support amid concerns about putting “rushed” deadlines on a process that may involve a consideration range of complex issues, such as environmental, safety and eminent domain concerns.
Under the terms of the bill, FERC would have 12 months after receiving a complete application to make a decision on whether to approve or deny a natural gas pipeline certificate for any project.
It would also codify FERC’s requirement that any other agencies required to issue a license, permit or other type of approval for that pipeline would have an additional 90 days — able to be extended to 120 days, at FERC’s discretion — once FERC issues its final environmental document on the project to make their own permitting decisions.
If either FERC or any subsequent licensing authorities miss their deadline, approval would be granted automatically. Delays to permitting have risen over the last decade, and the average processing time for an interstate natural gas pipeline project is now nearly 19 months, according to House Republicans, citing a February 2013 Government Accountability Office report.
A previous, nearly identical version of the bill passed the House in the last Congress in a similarly divided 252-165 vote, but was never taken up by the then-Democratic Senate.
The White House has already issued a veto threat against the latest bill, as it did for the previous version, saying that although it recognizes the need for more energy infrastructure and for timely consideration of project applications, it could not support that “rigid, unworkable timeframes” required by the bill.